By Shahin Shahin
What you are about to read is a true account of dealing with paperwork in Iran. The names of characters have been changed to protect the guilty!
Two days into my visit in Iran, a friend of mine from college days in Europe called and asked whether I would accompany him on some errands. Sure, why not. Little did I know that it would turn into a mission, an almost impossible mission.
Inside the taxi, he explained that he wanted to change the deeds of a house the family owned into his brother's name. We went to see an attorney.
The attorney was a very nice man, who did not laugh at us simple, naive souls. He began to explain the process and procedures. To me they seemed so complicated, that my head began to spin. Behind the attorney's head I saw a vision of a slow fuse, a lighted match lighting the fuse, and him saying to us, "should we accept the mission ...and the tape would self-destruct in five seconds". The theme music from Mission Impossible was ringing in my ears.
I came to my senses, when my friend nudged me, and said we should go.
We first went to the treasury offices to pay the annual taxes, and get the property tax up to date.
The treasury building was 15 floors. And the elevator was out of service. We went to the first floor. there was a line of endless desks, each desk piled up high with files. The first person we approached said that we needed to find the surveyor in charge of the street, where the property was located, and no he did not know who that was. We went to the next desk, and the next desk. We ran of desks, and tried the next floor, and the next floor. And the floor after that.
By the eighth floor, I was completely shattered from climbing the stairs. I stopped.
- I can not go on any longer.
- You have to. I need your help.
- No, I will only slow you down. Leave me here. You go ahead without me.
- But we have come this far together. Get up, lets go.
- No, no the mission is more important. You must succeed, just leave some ammunition and water. I will hold them off as long as I can.
- What are you talking about? This is not a Rambo movie. Get up you lazy bum, I will help you. I will even carry your big bulk. Come on now, you can do it.
We eventually found our man, sitting at the last desk, on the top floor. He recognized the address straight away, and even remembered that it was empty. I was impressed. He told us that although he knew the place and had valued it last year, in order to issue a bill for the annual tax; he would need an affidavit from neighbors saying the place has been empty for the past year. I was not impressed!
My friend wrote the affidavit. He showed me the paper. I glanced at it. It looked okay to me.
We then drove to the address and tried to get the affidavit signed. The first person we approached said although she knew the place has been empty for over a year, she never signed anything. No amount of pleading changed her mind. The next person said she was illiterate, and could not sign either!
Eventually we managed to find someone willing to sign the affidavit. He took the paper from us, and began to read it.
- This is all wrong. The grammar is wrong. So is the spelling. And who wrote it? It looks like the handwriting of a 12-year-old.
I pointed to my friend. He wrote it, I siad.
My friend turned around, and looked at me; it was the look of a serial killer.
- You helped me write it.
- I only looked at it. It serves you right going overseas to study at a young age. You call yourself educated? You can't even write Farsi. What good is your PhD in applied mechanics? Huh? You don't even have a clue about fixing cars.
- Look who is talking? Mr. Engineer my foot. If you are that clever, why did n't you correct the affidavit?
- My Farsi is a bit off course.
- So shut up or I'll kick you all the way back to Europe.
- Yeah? You and whose army?
Finally, the neighbor said:
- Gentlemen, please! Give me a piece of paper. I will write it for you.
We went back to the treasury guy and handed over the affidavit. In return we got a bill for the taxes covering the year, and went to queue in the bank for three hours to pay the bill. Back again to the treasury man to give him the receipt and get our tax certificate. We had now climbed those steps three times. I began to think of rock climbing as a hobby.
Next we went to the Registrar of Documents office, in order to get a certificate certifying that there were no litigation or fines pending on the property.
Outside the building there were all these black flags, and on a chair stood a picture of a man draped in black ribbons. A crowd also stood outside. We went in anyway. The guard stopped us.
- I am sorry, the office is closed today.
- The manager has passed away.
- Sorry to hear that. When?
- This morning.
- In that case we will be back tomorrow
- Do that.
The office was closed for three days. Eventually we did get the certificate. That is of course after having paid the necessary fees at the nearby bank.
We also needed to pay the local council's annual levy. On to the local council offices. Upon reaching the counter, where they issued the bills, we overheard a conversation between the council employee and a member of the public.
- Sorry sir, we have run of paper. I can't print out a bill.
- Use the other terminals (pointing to other computers around).
- All the terminals are connected to one printer, and there is no paper left, please come back tomorrow.
Needless to say there was no point in hanging around. On the way out I remembered one of my favorite anecdotes. A man goes to a café and asks the waiter for a cup of coffee without cream. The waiter goes into the kitchen and returns empty handed. He says to the man: sorry sir we have no cream left, can it be without milk?
We went back the next day and got our bill, and duly queued at the bank for three hours to pay the bill.
On the fourth day, armed with the necessary paperwork and my friend's brother accompanying us we went back to the attorney.
The attorney wrote out a bill, covering the government fees for the transfer. Back to another bank to pay the fees and get a receipt. The attorney collected the paperwork, and wrote out the deeds. My friend and his brother signed the deeds, and a million other papers that were necessary to have their signatures. I was worried the pen would run of ink.
The whole thing completed, we paid the attorney's fees too, and thanked him for his time.
Outside I asked my friend how he felt.
- About three hundred thousand tomans poorer.
- And don't forget five days older!
- Yeah. I was wondering. Are you busy tomorrow. I need to enroll my son's name in a school for next year.
- Do you want me to reschedule my return flight to a later day?
- It's not necessary. I don't think it will take more than one day.
Those were the famous last words!
* Also by Shahin Shahin: